Cases & Advocacy

Meriwether v. Shawnee State University

Jane Doe is a transgender student at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. She was a student in Professor Meriwether’s Political Philosophy class in the spring 2018 semester. Because of his religious beliefs, Professor Meriwether refused to use female honorifics and pronouns when referring to Jane in class.

Jane filed a Title IX complaint with the university. After completing an investigation into Professor Meriwether’s conduct, the university decided to place a discipline letter in his personnel file regarding his refusal to use the correct honorific and pronoun when referring to Jane. On November 5, 2018, Meriwether sued the university claiming that the disciplinary action infringed on his First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion, among other violations of federal and state law.

On December 24, 2018, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gerhardstein & Branch LPA, and Jenner & Block LLP moved to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Jane Doe and Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA), the LGBTQ-student group at the university. Jane Doe also moved to proceed under a pseudonym to safeguard her privacy because the complaint and accompanying documents needlessly referred to Jane by her full legal name over sixty times. Recognizing the importance of Jane’s anonymity to her health and wellbeing, the Court granted Jane’s motion to proceed under a pseudonym, sealed all previously filed documents that contained her name, and ordered Meriwether to file redacted versions of each document.

On May 9, 2019, the Southern District of Ohio permitted Jane Doe and SAGA to intervene in Meriwether’s lawsuit. The following day, Jane Doe and SAGA moved to dismiss Meriwether’s complaint because the First Amendment does not prevent Shawnee from enforcing its general nondiscrimination policies to protect transgender students. On February 12, 2020, District Judge Dlott adopted the opinion written by Magistrate Judge Litkovitz and dismissed Meriwether’s complaint.

That decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. On March 26, 2021, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal of Meriwether’s complaint. The opinion concluded that Meriwether’s speech was likely protected by his constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. But, because the parties had not yet developed a full factual record, the panel decided to send the case back to the trial court for further developments of the facts.

On July 8, 2021, the Sixth Circuit denied the petition for rehearing en banc filed by Jane Doe, SAGA, and Shawnee State University. In April 2022, Meriwether and Shawnee University entered into a settlement agreement thereby resolving the dispute.